Whether the Lotus John Player Special, Jeff Gordon’s Rainbow Warrior, the sleek gun-metal grey Sauber Mercedes C9 and Colin McRae’s 555 Subaru Impreza, everybody has their own personal favourite when it comes to iconic motorsport liveries. But how do their creators come up with the designs in the first place, and what qualities make for a livery that stands the test of time?
To find out, we asked Matt Reeves, who studied automotive design at the University of Swansea and has since established himself as an industry-leading livery designer with Prodrive’s Aston Martin Racing and Subaru World Rally teams, as well as 2014 Le Mans 24 Hour winners Jota Sport and British GT outfit Barwell Motorsport. To contact Matt, click here.
Q. How do you get into this line of work?
A. Part of my third year major project at university was to work with Prodrive on a commercial car, which got me a foot in the door back in 2005. Initially, I started off with the automotive sector in Warwick, which was doing after-market design and limited edition body-packs and bits and pieces like that for Alfa Romeo and Subaru.
From there I got moved onto motorsport projects, originally mocking up base liveries for clients, taking photos of the car and mocking up what their brand would look like on the car. Not long after that I got moved into the corporate marketing department and it just progressed from there, working on race and rally programmes with Aston being the biggest of those.
Motorsport is a very tight business, people move onto different teams and once I was part-time freelance, I kept in contact with people and the work has kept coming in each year with new teams, some start-ups, some fairly established. A lot of it has been word of mouth, and as a result I’ve hardly had any time to do my own marketing, which is a good problem to have.
Q. Your schedule must be very different from the majority of people who work in motorsport, for whom the winter months are pretty quiet!
A. Yes, it’s very seasonal obviously – there’s still bits and pieces, for the races through the year some of the teams require marketing materials, guest invitations, posters and things like that. I also work with another ex-Aston Martin colleague who runs a marketing PR business and together we have a few non-motorsport projects to keep me going through the off-season as it were – the period from October to March once the cars are out there is very busy, which I enjoy.
Q. Is there a temptation to stick with liveries that have proven successful in the past?
A. Of course there’s always the iconic liveries in the back of your mind, but you try not take too many cues from them and steer more towards something that is your own work. My first livery which I was involved with from the start was the Gulf Aston Martin DBR9 in 2008 – I know it just looks like a stripe on a car, but there’s a lot more to it than that!
Q. Is there a process you follow to ensure maximum visibility for sponsors?
A. The first thing you have to plan out is where to put the logos and key branding to get the most coverage. People always think the side and the doors is a primary spot, but the front around the bumper area gets just as much. The rear wing is probably less of a valuable spot than people think, although it’s a bigger area. It’s just a matter of making sure brands have the exposure they’re after for the money they’re putting in.
Once you’ve got those, it’s a case of looking at the sponsors’ design cues, if they have any, which mostly depends on whether they are going to be a title sponsor. The colours are fairly set – a lot of the teams that come to me will have a brand which they want to carry through on the car as well. For example, if it was black or blue then you wouldn’t pick up that it was sponsored by McDonalds.
Q. How satisfying is it to see your designs do well?
A. It’s great to see it work out on the track, it makes it all worthwhile. The Gulf Aston Martin from 2008 was my first major one I worked on and to see it through from the concept stage, mock-ups in Photoshop, getting it through to production and to then win the GT class at Le Mans was incredible. I also worked on the Jota last year and did a slight update for this year.